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    Sonjia Williams proves her success on ‘Project Runway’

    Sonjia Williams, a Lasell College graduate, working on one of her designs.
    Barbara Nitke
    Designs by Lasell College graduate Sonjia Williams.

    A weekly “Project Runway” viewing can be an anxiety-provoking experience for deeply invested fans of the long-running fashion reality show. For Lynn Blake, chair of Fashion at Lasell College, the weekly “Project Runway” ritual is a truly emotional experience.

    “Every Thursday night it’s a glass of wine and a box of tissues for me,” Blake says. “I tell everybody it’s unbelievable for me to watch this unfold.”

    Blake’s interest in the show is particularly acute this season because Lasell graduate Sonjia Williams is a contestant on the show. Lifetime airs the 10th episode of the current season of “Runway” on Thursday at
    9 p.m. Williams, a Boston native, is still in the running for the $100,000 grand prize. She is one of seven designers remaining out of a field that began with 16.

    From left to right: Keith Bedford/Reuters, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
    Williams’s designs at a “Project Runway” show, part of New York’s Fashion Week.

    “She was a great design student,” Blake says. “Her senior collection was very clever, and she really wanted this opportunity.”

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    The 27-year-old Williams, who grew up in a family that bounced around neighborhoods including those in Roxbury, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain, uses the term “surreal” several times to describe her experience of being on “Runway.”

    “Even through the application process, it was hard for me to believe that I might be on ‘Project Runway.’ And then to be picked out of thousands of people to compete was just mind-blowing,” Williams says on the phone from New York.

    In a show where contestants can easily be labeled “the villain” or “the drama queen,” Williams is a determined, hard-working designer who has no problem getting along with her competitors. In the workroom at Parsons the New School for Design, she is a calm figure — with an occasional panic attack — with a tousled, boyish blue coiffure. She’s won a challenge on the show thanks to her vibrant use of color, print, and texture.

    “I didn’t see it as a competition with other designers,” she says. “I never once tried to sabotage anyone or be malicious in any way, because that’s not me as a person. You see these people day after day for six months.”


    Williams showed a collection at Lincoln Center earlier this month in a show that was filmed for the “Project Runway” finale. In order not to give away who the finalists will be, several decoy designers also present collections, and those decoys are edited out when the show airs. At this point, it’s unknown if Williams was a decoy or a finalist. Regardless, she showed a collection of floral prints paired with a lot of lace.

    Williams learned her way around a sewing machine as a teenager thanks to her mom. Her first forays into design involved making skirts and adding fabrics to embellish thrift store finds. It wasn’t until she was at Lasell that she started learning the art of design.

    She had initially sent an application to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. When she didn’t make the cut to attend FIT, she turned to Lasell, and in hindsight she says it was the best outcome for her.

    “It’s much better suited for me than FIT,” she says. “I know people who have gone to FIT, and they’ve told me it’s a very competitive school. I think Lasell is much more personal. I gained a lot there. And now I’m putting it all to good use.”

    Christopher Muther can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.